College – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
My university experience, like so many others, was a cocktail of stress, fun and every emotion on the spectrum. The highs far outweighed the lows, but I can still vividly remember the pain of failing a test or having to pull an all-nighter.
It’s a time where so much is expected of you, with so little guidance on how to stay on top of it all. If you add a part-time job on top of that, it can be a recipe for disaster.
But working through your college years is a necessary evil for many, and can open the door for opportunities down the road. If you can handle the extra time commitment – and pick the right job – part-time work will net you valuable experience and some extra spending cash to boot.
So the question is, should you get a part-time job or not? We’ll help walk you through the pros and cons.
You’ll Get More Job Experience
If you find a part-time job that relates to your degree or career interests, you’ll be building your resume while you earn money. Employers love to see graduates who already have some experience in the field, and just having a degree often isn’t enough.
Plus, if you find a part-time job that lasts through the school year, you’ll be better off than students who can only devote a summer. The longer you work somewhere, the more connections you’ll build and the easier your eventual job search will be.
In college, a friend of mine worked for a TV business show that aired on the local PBS affiliate. She started interning there while a junior in college, so when they had a job opening after graduation she automatically got the position.
If your part-time gig is slinging burritos at Chipotle, your resume won’t benefit as much as interning at a logistics firm. Still, any kind of job shows employers that you kept yourself busy while your classmates were hanging on the quad.
You’ll Make Money
Of course, the best aspect of a part-time job is having more money. Whether your parents pay for your living expenses or you’re self-sufficient, having a little more spending cash is always a plus. If you’re using student loans to pay for rent and groceries, having a part-time job means you won’t have to borrow as much. That can save you hundreds in interest later on.
Even if you still need loans for rent, groceries and tuition, having extra cash lets you explore the other side of being a college student: studying abroad. I was able to study abroad for a summer in London because I had worked at my dorm’s front desk during the school year.
That trip changed my life. It’s where I learned what kind of journalist I wanted to be. It’s also where I met my husband. If it hadn’t been for my part-time job, I would never have been able to go.
You’ll Learn More About Your Major
If your part-time job is in the industry you hope to work in after graduation, you’ll end up with a better sense of what that career will actually look like. Students have a bad habit of majoring in fields they have no real experience in – then they graduate and are disappointed with what they find.
A friend of mine was a Public Relations major in college and head of the student PR group. It wasn’t until she got a part-time job at a real PR firm that she realized she hated the atmosphere. That job broke her spirit and made her rethink her major. She switched to speech therapy, a field she’s still in five years later.
Trying out your future career in a part-time setting can save you hours of studying and thousands in tuition if it keeps you from committing to a major you don’t enjoy. Just remember that not all positions within an industry are created equal, so don’t change majors just because you end up with a bad boss.
You’ll Network with Professionals
It’s a cliche at this point, but finding a job after graduation is more about who you know than what you know. The best way to meet more people is to network, and a part-time job is the best way to do that.
Meeting new people can lead to unexpected opportunities. Each time you meet someone, you diversify and expand the network of people you can ask for job recommendations, interview tips and resume help.
Your Social Life Suffers
During my sophomore year of college, I wanted to get a part-time job. I was considering a study abroad program, and I needed to partially pay my own way or I wouldn’t be able to go. My RA hooked me up with a gig at the dorm’s front desk, giving packages to residents and answering phone calls from parents wondering why their kid wasn’t picking up their phone.
At first, I only worked Monday nights. Then my shift changed to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. As an almost-30-year-old woman, 10 a.m .is a normal time to be awake. As a college student, it was hell.
Suddenly, staying up late on Saturday meant I’d suffer on Sunday. A few times I overslept and woke up to a phone call from an RA wondering why I wasn’t at the desk. Eventually, my boss called me in and asked if I wanted to keep working. I told him no. Luckily, I already had enough saved up for my study abroad trip.
Sometimes you’ll get a part-time job that easily meshes with your social life, but often that won’t be the case – especially if your friends aren’t working. Don’t discount the importance of having plenty of time for friends in college. Yes, you’re supposed to go to class and learn, but college is also about exploring new interests and meeting people from different backgrounds.
Before signing up for a part-time job, think about how it will affect your life. If it’s too much of an inconvenience, consider finding a better fit. If you’ve already committed to a position that doesn’t seem to be working out, don’t feel too guilty about putting in your two weeks notice.
Your Grades Suffer
If you’re working a significant amount during the week, your social life won’t be the only thing falling by the wayside. Your grades can also slip. Having a solid GPA is a must if you’re considering grad school or a career where degrees are highly valued.
A friend of mine signed up to be our school newspaper’s editor-in-chief his senior year. He was pre-med, but loved journalism and wanted to head the paper for a semester. On top of taking intense biology and chemistry classes, he spent at least 40 hours a week in the newsroom.
His GPA tanked that semester, and he ended up needing to go to grad school before applying to med school. Taking out loans for grad school cost him an extra $20,000 – much less than he earned at the paper.
Making money and being productive is great, but not if it prevents you from doing the one thing you’re supposed to do in college: learn. Focus on your future first – the money will come in time.
It’s Not Relevant to Your Future Career
If your major is publishing and you work part-time for a local bookstore, you can spin that experience on your resume. The same goes for working at a hotel if you major in hospitality. But if your major is Education and spend weeknights working at Banana Republic, it’s a little harder to paint that as relevant experience.
Part-time jobs should be more than a way to earn beer money. They should be productive and beneficial to your future goals. If your dream is to work in music production, intern at the local radio station or a small record label. You might earn less than if you bartend a few nights a week, but those hours will pay off when you’re applying for a real job.
How to Make It Work
Research from the American Association of University Professors shows that students who work between 10-15 hours a week are more likely to graduate than students who don’t work or those who work more than 15 hours a week.
Those findings are interesting, because they highlight an interesting relationship between work ethic and favorable academic outcomes. Essentially, the most successful students are the ones who are willing to work, but unwilling to push themselves too far. That’s a valuable lesson for anyone.
If you plan to get a part-time job during college, set a limit on how much you’ll work. More hours can increase stress and make it harder to stay focused on school. Talk to your boss if he or she tries to assign more shifts, and always ask for time off during finals. Avoiding burnout is important for success, both during and after college.